Towards Curriculum Design Coherence in primary geography education for sustainability

KNSTE is delighted to be the recipient of the 2022 British Educational Research Association BERA / BCF Curriculum Investigation Grant. Our project involves drawing on the Curriculum Design Coherence (CDC) model developed by  Professor Elizabeth Rata (2021) and her team at the  Knowledge and Education Research Unit at the University of Auckland. (hyper link to

The CDC Model offers teachers a framework to support their curriculum design capabilities. Curriculum design is the means by which teachers connect disciplinary structures to students’ cognitive structure. Learning results from the connection. The connection is possible because logical arrangements exist in both structures – in the knowledge and the mind. (Rata, 2022).

The use of the CDC Model is helping us to unpack the statement oft quoted by Ofsted that ‘the curriculum is the progression model’. The CDC Model is helping us to differentiate between curriculum knowledge and pedagogic knowledge. The Model enables us to focus on our engagement with and understanding of knowledge specified in the curriculum before drawing on our pedagogic knowledge.

An initial and deliberate focus on curriculum knowledge engages us with disciplinary structures and the specialising and organising concepts present in a subject such as geography. The Geographical Association identifies space, place, earth systems and environment as being key disciplinary concepts. The GA also suggests that time, scale, diversity, interconnection and interpretation are organising concepts for the discipline.

Concepts help to cohere knowledge that would otherwise be atomised.  Coherence is developed by paying attention to ‘reasoned connections’ that can be made between knowledge how and knowledge that in relation to key concepts. In this way knowledge is organised and specialised, such that coherence and cumulation can be developed.

The Model helps us to explore whether coherence in our curriculum design aid coherence in pupils’ schema / schemata. Hence the connection with the phrase ‘ the curriculum is the progression model’.

In this project we are applying to CDC Model to our curriculum design work in relation to the concept of sustainability in the subject of geography in the primary phase. We are drawing on the idea that ‘Sustainable development means meeting the needs of all people now – including protecting the natural habitats that are essential to our survival- without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ .

Over the next two terms we will be using the CDC Model to design sequences of 4-6 lessons using geography’s key concepts in relation to the notion of sustainable development. We will draw on the WWF’s Schools Sustainability Guide (Schools Sustainability Guide | WWF). We will evaluate our work and will look forward to sharing our outcomes here with you over the next two terms.